Since virtually all studios these days have gone digital, the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is now the centerpiece of any modern home recording studio.
After you’ve chosen a computer, the next major purchasing decision is the DAW / Audio Interface combination.
In this article, we will look at various options to choose from when selecting the perfect DAW for your studio.
Getting it Right the First Time
When choosing a DAW, you want to make SURE you choose right the FIRST time.
With most gear, say mics for example, you start out with something cheap and simple, and you upgrade to something more sophisticated at some point in the future. It’s a smart plan.
But not with DAW’s. Here’s why:
Every DAW is unique, and it takes TIME to become familiar with the software.
It takes months, possibly even years to get completely comfortable with the functions of a DAW. And if one day you decided to change to a new platform, few if any of that knowledge will transfer. In other words, you’ll basically have to start over from scratch, and learn it all over again.
It’s a huge waste of time.
The lesson here is, the DAW you start with is most likely the one that you will be using FOREVER, so if you pick anything less than the best, there’s a good chance you’ll one day live to regret it.
The Best Free DAW
In my opinion, it’s a big mistake to run any serious recording studio using free DAW software. However, if you just want to get your feet wet and play around with something before spending any money, there are a number of free or almost free options.
Audacity is the most famous open-source DAW software out there, and it’s one that many people use, at least in the beginning. You can download it for free on the their website at http://audacity.sourceforge.net/.
Another popular ‘almost’ free option is Apple’s Garageband. You can download it at the app store for around 15 bucks. It’s incredibly simple to use. I’ve actually seen kids at elementary schools using it to compose songs in class.
The simplicity of these low end DAW’s seem convenient at first, but as your skills improve, it becomes a serious limitation. Try them if you like, but if using them for anything longer than a week or so will be a waste of your time.
The better option is to avoid them entirely, and start looking at one pro DAW’s which we will look at now.
The Top Dogs in DAW’s
There are a million and one DAW’s out there, but there are really only a handful capable of producing truly professional results. The top dogs on the list include:
Many professional studios rely on either one or a combination of these tools to record music day in and day out. Technically, you’d be fine using any one of them. However, my recommendation is that you avoid them entirely.
Avoid them, in favor of…
The Grand Daddy of All DAW’s
Avid’s Pro Tools. Really…it’s the only DAW you should be using.
Pro Tools is the industry standard. The VAST majority of studios out there, from professional to amateur, use Pro Tools as their DAW of choice. For that reason alone, you should as well.
If you ever want to work in someone else’s studio, have someone else work in yours, or collaborate with another studio in any way, it will be a thousand times easier if you are both running Pro Tools.
If one day in the future, one of those other DAW’s takes over and becomes the new standard, then use that one. Until then, get Pro Tools.
How to Get Started Using Pro Tools
The first time you open up a session in Pro Tools, you kind wonder, “okay, what now?” With an empty window staring you in the face, it’s tough to know how to get started.
You could start reading the manual from page 1, but trust me when I say, it’s LONG, and it’s BORING. Instead, I’d recommend a training program that’s a bit more fun and interactive. For Pro Tools 11, here are 3 good training programs I found to get you started on your way to Pro Tools mastery.
- Pro Tools 101: An Introduction to Pro Tools 11
- Pro Tools Ignite!: A Visual Guide for New Users
- Pro Tools 11: Production, Recording, Editing, and Mixing
These books certainly won’t teach you everything, but they’ll teach you more than enough to get started using Pro Tools effectively to record and mix your songs. After that point, you’re on your own. Improving your skills from that point on is a matter of time and experimentation.